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Health Highlights: Nov. 20, 2008

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of HealthDay:

Health Insurers Would Accept All Customers if Congress Mandated Coverage

Health insurers would agree to accept all customers, regardless of illness or disability, if Congress required all Americans to have coverage, two main industry trade associations said Wednesday.

If people aren't mandated to have coverage, many would wait until they suffer health problems before they buy insurance, said America's Health Insurance Plans and the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, The New York Times reported.

The industry's position could help ease passage of legislation to expand health care coverage and control health care costs. Such legislation is favored by President-elect Barack Obama and has widespread support in Congress, the newspaper said.

However, there's one major difference between Obama's position and that of the insurance industry, the Times reported. The industry wants the federal government to require all Americans to have and maintain insurance, while Obama wants the rule, at least initially, to apply only to children.


Lung Cancer Drug Trial Halted

A late-stage clinical trial of the experimental lung cancer drug motesanib was halted because patients taking the drug had higher early death rates than patients taking a placebo.

The trial by U.S.-based Amgen and Japan's Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. was stopped after an independent monitoring committee noted the pattern of deaths among the study's 600 patients with non-small cell lung cancer, Bloomberg news reported.

Motesanib was designed to starve tumor cells of the blood supply they need to grow by blocking a protein called VEGF, which is involved in the growth of blood vessels that feed tumors.

The clinical trial suspension applies only to patients with the squamous non-small cell form of cancer, Bloomberg reported. Amgen said the monitoring committee didn't recommend suspension of the study for patients with the non-squamous form of the lung cancer.


China Introduces New Rules for Dairy Industry

A number of new food safety measures designed to tackle problems in the dairy industry were announced Thursday by the Chinese government. The new rules will cover all areas of the industry, including cow breeding, animal feed, and packaging and sales of milk, The New York Times reported.

The action is in response to the melamine-tainted milk powder scandal, which claimed the lives of at least four infants and sickened more than 50,000 Chinese children. Chinese milk products have been recalled worldwide, and the scandal has embarrassed the Chinese government and caused major damage to the country's dairy farmers and milk producers.

"The crisis has put China's diary industry in peril and exposed major problems existing in the quality control and supervision of the industry," an official with China's National Development and Reform Commission said in a posting on the agency's Web site, the Times reported.

The tainted milk crisis is the latest in a series of problems with China's agriculture industry.


Former Senate Leader Tom Daschle Offered HHS Post: Reports

President-elect Barack Obama has settled on former Senate Majority Leader Thomas Daschle to serve as secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, according to published reports.

Daschle, a South Dakota Democrat, was an early and close adviser to Obama during the just-concluded presidential campaign. He recently wrote a book on his ideas to improve health care, and is working with former Senate leaders on recommendations to improve the health-care system, the Associated Press reported.

If his nomination is approved by the Senate, Daschle would lead a department with a budget this year of $707.7 billion, and nearly 65,000 employees spread across 11 divisions. He would be responsible for the Medicare and Medicaid programs, the Food and Drug Administration, public health programs and the National Institutes of Health, the Washington Post reported.

Daschle has emerged as Obama's main adviser on efforts to expand health-care coverage, while at the same time lowering costs. During the campaign, Obama promised to reduce the average family's medical bill by $2,500, according to the Post.

Besides health reform, the next HHS secretary will have to manage the growing budgetary problems facing some of the nation's most important health agencies. For instance, years of funding that didn't keep pace with inflation means the National Institutes of Health has lost 14 percent of its buying power, said Dr. Harold Varmus, NIH's former director and a science adviser to Obama's campaign. That has left promising disease research without money to move forward, the AP said.

Daschle has already been chosen to head the Obama transition team on health policy, the Post said.

"Clearly, Daschle getting this appointment means the Obama administration is strongly committed to making health care reform an early and top priority," said Ron Pollack, executive director of the health advocacy group Families USA.

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Posted: November 2008